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Financial Intelligence Unit recover scammed funds

Saturday 10 June 2023 | Written by Losirene Lacanivalu | Published in Crime, Economy, National


Financial Intelligence Unit recover scammed funds

The Cook Islands Financial Intelligence Unit (CIFIU) has managed to recover some of the funds taken from a recent scam victim.

The victim, a local resident, was one of three people who lost more than $70,000 in April.

The victims were all aged over 50.

It was a “Samsung Lottery” scam – one of the three victims lost more than $40,000.

The scammers were using the Prime Minister’s name to support their crimes, therefore the Prime Minister’s Office sent out an alert early in April, warning Cook Islanders of a lottery scam.

Cook Islands FIU head Walter Henry said: “Our understanding is that the individual that we spoke to, interviewed, we helped recover some of that money.”

Henry said, however, the victim is now no longer listening to anybody and decided to engage with a different group of people.

“What you will find is we reach out to them, we engage with them, provide advice, at the end of the day it is up to them whether they take the advice ... some say ‘it’s my money, my loss’.”

Henry said that technically, scam matters are not CIFIU’s responsibility but more of a cybercrime matter.

“We don’t have legislation or cybercrime infrastructure in place that will determine who will investigate.”

When people lose their money, they want to get the money back and go to various sources. CIFIU is one of them “because we have easy access”.

“There is a formal process in place that allows us to quickly reach financial institutions like the bank, Western Union, Vodafone (mobile banking).”

Scammers operate over a long period of time and will request any amount of money from their victims, CIFIU earlier said.

Scammers will continue to target that victim using other fake Facebook pages and scams.

Some of the signs that the people need to be aware of are:

• Use of Facebook, Messenger or Google mail to communicate on behalf of a large company; 

• Poor grammar or language used in the conversations; 

• Persuasive tone in conversations designed to convince or pressure victims;

• Poorly edited official documents showing the victim's name. e.g.: lottery certificate, formal letters etc

• Hacked Facebook pages of family members and friends used for communicating;

• Scammers will avoid direct communication using phone and video calls;

• Scammers use Facebook Messenger to request; Personal Information and Banking information. 

- Share the scheme with family and friends; 

- Transact funds for the purposes of a gift or family support to claim the prize money; 

- Deposit funds into a domestic bank account; 

- Not alert anyone about the purpose of the transactions. 

• Scammers will hook victims into the scam with: 

- An attractive prize money e.g., $800,000; 

- Having personal conversations to gain the victim’s trust; 

- Use open-sourced online pictures of people and events in the Cook Islands to legitimise the scam.

Other signs to be aware of to help someone suspected of being a victim: 

- Change in the person/subject’s social behaviour who is usually outgoing but insist on staying home – to wait for the delivery of their prize money; 

- A victim will ask for assistance to verify a transaction recently made is correct and scammers will say they did not receive any money and will convince the victim to send more money to the same bank details or to another account;

- Victims will not be open to talk about the scam – scammers instruct victims not to alert anyone in person, including authorities but to use Facebook messenger only to communicate.

People caught up in a scam are advised to contact the FIU, in confidence, on 29182.